Shakespeare 450

April marks the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, and with this selection of items owned by the Mercer County Library System, you can brush up on your knowledge of the Bard!

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare
By Ken Ludwig
William Shakespeare's plays are among the bedrocks of Western civilization and contain the finest writing of the past 450 years. Many of the best novels, plays, poetry, and films in the English language produced since Shakespeare's death in 1616--from Pride and Prejudice to The Godfather --are heavily influenced by Shakespeare's stories, characters, language, and themes. In a sense, his works are a kind of Bible for the modern world; bringing us together intellectually and spiritually. Hamlet, Juliet, Macbeth, Ophelia, and a vast array of other singular Shakespearean characters have become the archetypes of our consciousness. To know some Shakespeare provides a head start in life. In How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, acclaimed playwright Ken Ludwig provides the tools you need to instill an understanding and a love of Shakespeare's works in your children, and to have fun together along the way. The author devised his methods while teaching his own children, and his approach is friendly and easy to master.

“This specialized guide for parents hoping to instill a bit of literary genius into their youngsters is both a how-to book and a simple but serious analysis of many of Shakespeare's major works. Olivier Award-winning playwright Ludwig's compelling argument is that although it's out of fashion, memorization-and particularly memorization of great literary works-is a gift you can give your children that will influence their academic and personal life. The book begins with an immediate lesson-memorizing a nine-word line from A Midsummer Night's Dream—written in a direct, personal tone to show how easy and enjoyable the process can be; once this is demonstrated, Ludwig explains his methodology and purpose in the second chapter. Within 20 pages, the book turns to analysis of the chosen works as well as general lessons about Shakespeare's life and important dates of the Renaissance, and discussions of the difference between poetry and prose. Ludwig breaks more famous speeches down, sentence by sentence, and highlights juicy bits and plot twists to hook children's interest. The book, in coordination with a web site of printable resources, will best suit parents with a real interest in and knowledge of Shakespeare, but will inspire any who wish to give their children the ‘benefit of his considerable knowledge and artistry.’”—Publishers Weekly 

So Long as Men Can Breathe: The Untold Story of Shakespeare's Sonnets
By Clinton Heylin
“In May 1609, Thomas Thorpe published what are now the best-known examples of their kind ever written. In an age that loved long titles, Thorpe felt a two-word title, Shakespeare's Sonnets, would sell the book. Bingo, but a second printing never happened, and from that day to this, the sonnets and the long poem appended to them, “A Lover's Complaint,” have been constantly controversial. Who gave them to Thorpe? Who wrote their inferior appendix? Who are they all about? Heylin, the world's foremost (Bob) Dylanologist, says that the reason for all the analyzing, conjecturing, and feuding is that Thorpe's publication was a bookleg like a bootleg recording, something that wasn't supposed to be put into public trade. It was probably suppressed because it had to be rediscovered 100 years later, after which the fur really flew. Tracing the centuries of bio-biblio hugger-mugger roused by Thorpe's simple attempt to make a killing, Heylin produces such an enthralling account (despite the steady blizzard of obscure names) that no ardent Shakespearean will cry, Hold! Enough!”—Booklist

With clear prose and an obvious love for his subject, Heylin here celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's sonnets, following the convoluted history of how they came to be published in 1609 and spinning off the tale of subsequent printings, editorial decisions, and the players who made it happen. Shakespeare circulated the sonnets among his friends with no intention of publishing them, since he thought they wouldn't make him any money. Publisher George Eld, a somewhat shady character with a tendency to pirate authors' works, and Thomas Thorpe, an adventurer trying to make a name for himself in the London publishing world, got hold of what were purported to be Shakespeare's sonnets and published them. Following clues, Heylin attempts to answer questions of authorship, how the sonnets were "edited," and who selected their printing sequence. The book ends with all the sonnets in the order and wording set by Thorpe. This is more of a literary detective story than a deep analysis of the sonnets themselves that will interest all lovers of Shakespeare and literature.”—Library Journal

Shakespeare Uncovered [DVD]
This DVD contains six episodes that combine history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passion of their celebrated hosts—Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant—to tell the story behind the stories of Shakespeare's greatest plays.

The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folios
By Eric Rasmussen
“It sounds like the basis for a thriller: a team of experts searches the world for an immeasurably valuable lost or stolen property, a property that represents one of the triumphs of Western civilization and that has met with various misadventures, including being stored in a pillowcase, subjected to the elements, and written on by members of the Spanish Inquisition. The property is the first folio of Shakespeare's plays, of the 160 folios printed by two members of Shakespeare's acting company in 1623. The team of experts was put together in 1996 by preeminent Shakespeare scholar Rasmussen, coeditor of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works of William Shakespeare and of the Norton Anthology of English Renaissance Drama. The team's mission? To examine every surviving copy of the first folio (they've examined 200 thus far) and to track down the missing ones, most of which, Rasmussen believes, have been stolen. This is a wonderfully engaging, witty, accessible account, both of the fates of first folios and of the continuing efforts by Rasmussen's team to find the folios and analyze them for authenticity. In one case, searchers examine a folio with a bullet encased inside; in another, they attempt to determine whether it's blood or red paint staining the copy. “This is as unputdownable as the most gripping mystery: along the way, readers will learn much about the social history of the folios, about the murders most foul connected to them, and about the dead within two years fate that has often befallen the folio's owners. Marvelous on every level.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“Part literary history and part detective story, this is an engaging book about the known surviving copies of the 1623 First Folio, which published 36 of Shakespeare's plays. Of the 232 recorded surviving copies, the majority are in public institutions rather than private hands. Rasmussen and his team of researchers were part of the global quest to catalog every extant copy. Rasmussen uses a lively, nonacademic style and engrossing anecdotes to tell us about one of history's most fascinating books. The original price of the First Folio was about L1, when the average worker made about L4 a year, and the price has climbed exponentially since then; in 2002, Paul Getty paid $7 million for a copy. Meisei University in Japan now owns a dozen folios, essentially as financial security.  Rasmussen is to be congratulated for an entertaining and informative book. Recommended for readers interested in literary and bibliographic history, Shakespeare, eccentric book collectors, and book theft.”—Library Journal

How Shakespeare Changed Everything
By Stephen Marche
Did you know the name Jessica was first used in The Merchant of Venice? Or that Freud's idea of a healthy sex life came from Shakespeare? Nearly 400 years after his death, Shakespeare permeates our everyday lives: from the words we speak to the teenage heartthrobs we worship to the political rhetoric spewed by the twenty-four-hour news cycle. In the pages of this wickedly clever little book, Esquire columnist Stephen Marche uncovers the hidden influence of Shakespeare in our culture, including these fascinating tidbits: Shakespeare coined over 1,700 words, including hobnob, glow, lackluster, and dawn; Paul Robeson's 1943 performance as Othello on Broadway was a seminal moment in black history; Tolstoy wrote an entire book about Shakespeare's failures as a writer; in 1936, the Nazi Party tried to claim Shakespeare as a Germanic writer; without Shakespeare, the book titles Infinite Jest, The Sound and the Fury, and Brave New World would not exist. Stephen Marche has cherry-picked the sweetest and most savory historical footnotes from Shakespeare's work and life to create this unique celebration of the greatest writer of all time.

“According to novelist and Esquire columnist Marche, Shakespeare was "the most influential person who ever lived," and his works frame how we understand the world. Obama, for instance, obliquely and redemptively replayed the story of Othello in the 2008 election, and for many Americans, he is the noble Moor, a courageous, charismatic outsider. Actor John Wilkes Booth apparently borrowed heavily from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for his theatrical assassination of Lincoln. Shakespeare enriched the English language by coining hundreds of words, like "assassination," "bandit," "hobnob," and "traditional," and expressions with amazing staying power, like "green-eyed," "tongue-tied," and "dead as a doornail." Marche claims that Shakespeare's frankness about sexuality has done more to foster open attitudes than even Freud (who gained his humanism from Shakespeare). Romeo and Juliet's profound portraits of teenagers in all their absurdity, nastiness, and "terrifying beauty" have shaped our understanding of adolescence; and Shakespeare, the author claims, is the dominant influence in Hollywood and was wildly popular in Nazi Germany. Marche's essay is informative and entertaining, but also rambling. None of this adds up to Marche's claim that Shakespeare is more important than Obama or John Wilkes Booth or Freud. And only the Bard-obsessed will need a whole chapter on Shakespeare-inspired starling overpopulation.”—Publishers Weekly

Prefaces to Shakespeare
By Tony Tanner

When Tony Tanner died in 1998, the world lost a critic who was as sensitive a reader of Jane Austen as he was of Thomas Pynchon, and who wrote with a warmth and clarity that belied his fluency in literary theory. In the final ten years of his life, Tanner tackled the largest project any critic in English can take on—writing a preface to each of Shakespeare’s plays. This collection serves as a comprehensive introduction for the general reader, the greatest and perhaps the last in the line of introductions to Shakespeare written by such luminaries as Samuel Johnson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Tanner brings Shakespeare to life, explicating everything from big-picture issues such as the implications of shifts in Elizabethan culture to close readings of Shakespeare’s deployment of complex words in his plays. Although these prefaces are written for a general audience, there is much value for the scholar as well. Tanner introduces some of the most significant recent and historical scholarship on Shakespeare to show the reader how certain critics frame large issues in a useful way. This scholarly generosity permits Johnson, Hazlitt, Emerson, Thoreau, Ruskin, Pater, and many others to enter into conversation. The Independent said of the project, “All of Tanner’s life and education had prepared him for this task and the results are magnificent—both accessible and erudite.”

- Lisa S.


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